As Ontario’s 2020 “sunshine list” saw a large increase in the number of employees who earned more than $100,000, the head of Metrolinx became among the top earners in the provincial government — his pay grew by approximately 46 per cent to more than $742,000.
Phil Verster, who was first appointed president and CEO of the provincial transportation agency in October 2017, had an annual salary of around $506,280 and $507,968 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In each of those years under his initial contract, his base salary was $479,500 and he was eligible to receive performance bonuses.
At the time of Verster’s appointment, an Ontario cabinet order-in-council said the base salary “is an amount considered to be within the salary range applicable to the position.”
However, according to an order-in-council in September reappointing Verster to his position retroactive to April 1, 2020, his base salary jumped to $686,566. Missing from the document was comparable language indicating if the pay was still “within the salary range applicable to the position.”
According to the document, Verster is eligible for a lump-sum payment between zero and 20 per cent of his base salary. The annual disclosure showed Verster made $55,561 on top of his 2020 base salary. He also received $12,823 in taxable benefits.
The $742,127 year-end total was more than double that of the CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission, which is the third-largest North American transit system in terms of ridership behind New York City and Mexico City. In 2020, the TTC’s Rick Leary made $361,338.
As the head of Metrolinx, Verster oversees GO Transit, UP Express and Presto, as well as transportation planning, development and construction staff within the agency itself. The agency has been taking on coordinating and overseeing large transit projects such as the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (which is being built by the private-sector consortium Crosslinx) as well as subway expansion projects in and around Toronto (the building of the Ontario Line, the extensions of Lines 1 and 2, and the western extension of the yet-to-be-opening Crosstown).
It was on Thursday when the Ontario government announced the proposed $5.6-billion Yonge North subway extension was being partially scaled back due to rising costs.
In 2020, news surfaced that the Crosstown project was facing multiple delays and the opening was pushed back to 2022. COVID-19 and labour shortages were a couple of the reasons cited for the long-awaited project.
However, the agency marked the completion of major projects such as the opening of the new Union Station Bus Terminal as well as the upgrading of all Presto devices on the UP Express line.
When asked about the large jump in salary to make Verster the 11th-highest-paid employee on the “sunshine list,” a spokesperson for Metrolinx reiterated he was eligible for a performance-based bonus. However, it’s unclear how exactly that amount over and above Verster’s base salary in 2020 was determined.
“Since his appointment three years ago, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster has not only taken responsibility for the operation of GO Transit, UP Express and PRESTO, he is also overseeing a historic $75-billion transit expansion program, including light rail transit projects, four subway lines and a massive expansion of GO service,” Anne Marie Aikins said in a statement after the “sunshine list” was released.
Meanwhile, looking at the Ontario government as a whole, more than 200,000 people were paid at least a six-figure salary, up from at least 150,000 in 2019. At the same time, the average reported salary fell slightly to $125,871 in 2020 from $127,396 the previous year.
At the top of the list was Kenneth Hartwick, head of Ontario Power Generation, who took home $1,236,056.84 in salary and taxable benefits. That’s roughly one-third more than he earned for the second spot on the list in 2019.
The province attributed the spike in the overall number of people making the list to the COVID-19 pandemic, which created significant demands on parts of the public service, particularly in health care and education.
A government statement said staff were required to work extraordinary amounts of overtime or earned pandemic pay, boosting the numbers of those crossing the $100,000 threshold.
According to the statement, besides straight salary and overtime, promotions, raises, bonuses and severance payments can also push someone onto the list.
The government has been releasing the “sunshine” list under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act enacted by former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris in 1996. All organizations that receive public funding from the province are required to report the names, positions and pay of those making more than $100,000.
— With files from The Canadian Press